Aam Aadmi Party’s recent complaints against Centre’s ordinance contradict their earlier support for the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s state status
The Aam Aadmi Party’s rhetoric against the Centre’s ordinance reestablishing the supremacy of the Lieutenant-Governor in the Union Territory of Delhi rings hollow against the backdrop of their support for the removal of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.
Indeed, I am convinced that the Centre would also have had the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir in mind when it issued an ordinance to undo a Supreme Court order that the elected government would control bureaucrats’ postings. That order was on a case filed by the AAP government of the Delhi Union territory, challenging the LG’s authority to transfer officers.
There has been no assembly (and hence no ministry) in Jammu and Kashmir since Governor’s Rule was imposed in June 2018 (five years next month). But Home minister Amit Shah had promised on the floor of the House that an assembly would be elected. If that happens (perhaps along with, or soon after, next year’s Lok Sabha elections), the norm now being established for Delhi could apply there too.
The Centre would no doubt want to retain real control over both of these crucial union territories: Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.
In one sense, then, the AAP leadership is reaping the results of the stand it (and many other ideologically rudderless smaller parties) took in 2019. Having participated in extinguishing a state, their current dismay over the disempowerment of a union territory does not impress.
Extinguishing a state sets a new course
As soon as those proposals regarding Jammu and Kashmir were brought to the Rajya Sabha, I had written that the removal of a state would grievously undermine the federal structure of the Constitution. It was clear to me that regional parties would shoot themselves in the foot if they went along. Yet, not just the AAP, some regional parties too fell in line.
As for winding down Articles 370 and 35-A, I had written that that was in the BJP’s manifesto, for which the party had gotten a massive mandate.
In any case, I have long held that Article 370 has become more or less a dead letter, partly since 1958, more so since 1964-65, and decidedly after the 1970s. After repeated changes under its provisions, the Centre had obtained more power over Jammu and Kashmir than over other states (the legislative powers of the governor under Governor’s Rule, for instance).
To be sure, Article 370 gave the state government autonomy from the Centre, but the people at large lost many of the rights that citizens elsewhere had (the Right To Information and constitutionally elected local bodies at some stages, for instance, even access to the Supreme Court over fundamental rights in the early years).
What happened in August 2019 went beyond Article 370 and Article 35-A, though. The very existence of a state was nullified. Sadly, even many in Ladakh, which was separated as another union territory, now wish for the reinstatement of the state. In any case, there’s no point in talking about special status when the state itself has ceased to exist.
Intellectual capital is required
The AAP went along, evidently unable to see, let alone process, the repercussions. They are now reaping the whirlwind.
The party often seems to lack clarity on basic issues. In casting about for populist ideological positions, it has at times tried to take over some of the BJP’s nationalist, and even religion-based, aura. But copycat ways are liable to prove unwise.
Sadly, a party that emerged with the promise of refreshing values-based improvements to India’s political landscape has too often seemed sharply focused on gaining and retaining power, even at the cost of values and ideals.
Now that its aspiration to gain control over the Delhi administration has been negated, the party must put its best foot forward to govern Punjab, where it won elections last February hands down.
That state faces complex challenges, including its faltering transition from an agrarian society and the corollary: the urban aspirations of even many of its rural belts. Some of these challenges will later be felt in other states. So, success in Punjab could immensely help the party’s pan-national aspirations.
But band-aid solutions will not yield real success. An insightful understanding of social and economic transitions is required – and of how the local, national, and global contexts are rapidly being transformed.
After it won the Delhi assembly elections, I analysed AAP as India’s first urban party, which drew its support from the urban underclass rather than an appeal based on caste, religion, or region, or on alternative visions of nationalism.
One hopes that the party will find the intellectual resources to measure up – or that another party will. For, India’s political matrix needs to cater to expanding and aspirant urban classes.
David Devadas is a journalist and security, politics and geopolitics analyst
Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own